Live and Direct 702 has elevated local virtual showcases with professionalism and intimacy
Before COVID-19, Renaldo Elliott was a very busy man. The former corporate clock-puncher turned career skinsman had gigs on the Strip five or six nights a week. But on March 15, a flood of emails from MGM, Caesars, and other gaming outfits canceled all live entertainment and, by extension, Elliott’s livelihood. As weeks passed by with no curtain-rise in sight, the veteran drummer settled into a funk much different than any he helped lay down onstage. “There was accomplishment and then regret,” Elliott says. “(Musicians) were deemed nonessential.”
Not making him feel any better were the shoddy Facebook live videos of bands performing in isolation. “I was like, this can’t be what the future is,” Elliott says. So he reached out to former bandmates Coco Jenkins, Greg Mayeda, and Ryan Mappala and launched Live and Direct 702, a Youtube channel featuring local musicians performing alone in the National Southwestern Recording studio at Downtown’s 11th Street Records.
[pictured right, Ryan Mappala, head of production]
The 30-minute, one-take videos that comprise the channel’s Today We Play music series not only stand in stark contrast to the lo-fidelity streams from early in the pandemic, but offer you-are-there intimacy sans the usual chatter and clatter. Each act is front and center, tastefully surrounded by candles and amplifiers. There are no jump shots or stylistic lenswork — just the simple, Jedi-like focus of Mappala’s video gaze. Every lyric is clearly projected, every note as clear as a die, from rapper Mike Xavier’s redemptive narratives to Droogs AG’s Chason Westmoreland pecking out skittering soundscapes on his MPC. “It’s for musicians, by musicians,” says Jenkins, who helps choose the performers and promotes their showcases on her popular There’s Nothing To Do in Vegas Instagram account. “We have so many amazing creatives that deserve not just our attention but our support.”
The most striking thing about the videos, besides the talent they exhibit, is their plague-defying spirit. Try not smiling back at beaming performers like Kaylie Foster, Sonia Barcelona, and Cameron Calloway, who have all debuted new material on their respective sessions. For many of the participants, Live and Direct 702 provided their first gig since the virus silenced every PA in town.
“They jumped at the opportunity,” Elliott says. “Many artists were hurting financially because they lost their jobs. It was like a depression. What we’re providing is an escape.”